March 30, 2014 – The Fourth Sunday of Lent
At times scripture can be a lot like the children’s exercise called “Connect the dots.” What may appear to be a group of unrelated dots, when connected correctly, become a clear picture, something which can be recognized and identified.
That is very much the case for our readings on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. We are at the midpoint of our Lenten journey, and it is a good time to evaluate, or perhaps in some of our cases, to get moving. From the first reading from First Samuel, in which we learn that David has been chosen by God because the Lord has looked into his heart (“Not as man sees does God see…for the Lord looks into the heart.”) to the beautiful 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”) to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (“Awake O sleeper and Christ will give you light.”) to Jesus’ healing of the blind man in the Gospel from John (“I was blind and now I see.”) we are led to connect the dots which reveal to us what Lent is all about.
If we cease being blind and understand the light of Christ, and vow to follow Him and to trust in Him, and if we choose to pursue stewardship and discipleship as a way of life, we, like David can be chosen, for God can see into our heart, and the Lord knows if we believe and are willing to follow Him like the Good Shepherd he is.
March 23, 2014 – The Third Sunday of Lent
Our readings on this Third Sunday of Lent flow together so very well. “Flow” is indeed the correct word as water is at the center of two of the readings. If you attend Mass regularly, you are aware that we have three readings at each Mass, plus a Psalm. According the Catholic Encyclopedia “Each Mass has three readings: the first from the Old Testament, the second from an Apostle (that is, either from a Letter or from the Book of Revelation, depending on the season), and the third from the Gospels. This arrangement brings out the unity of the Old and New Testaments and of the history of salvation, in which Christ is the central figure, commemorated in His paschal mystery.”
This is germane to our readings for this Sunday as the three readings, as is often the case, are interconnected and complement each of the other readings. Water is at the heart of both the first reading and our Gospel reading. Water was a rich and vivid symbol in most Jewish writings. It is mentioned significantly more than 70 times in the Bible. However we look at the references to water, especially in today’s readings, we need to realize that when Jesus speaks of water, especially “living water,” He is trying to enlighten us that there are two ways to look at water: first, as the response to bodily thirst; and, second, as a need to quench spiritual thirst.
In Exodus God responds to Moses’ plea to help the Israelites who are suffering from great thirst in the desert. The merciful God does so. There is a latent meaning in this story nonetheless. The location, Massah and Meribah, have special meaning in that in Hebrew Massah means “to test” and Meribah means “to provoke.” God is testing the Israelites, and their response provokes the Lord. The people ask, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” This is for us a Lenten challenge. Do we trust God? Do we expect signs from God? Our approach to stewardship involves trusting God to watch over us and to care for us. That is what allows us to take the risks associated with giving of ourselves and what we have as good stewards.
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses that trust. We are advised to place our total trust, our total hope, in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us that if we embrace this hope and if we truly believe, “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is poured into our hearts, like “living water,” like the water of Baptism.
If we listen carefully to the Gospels each and every week, each and every day, we come to know that the Gospel of John, from which today’s Gospel is drawn, is unique. The entire Gospel of John covers only the final twenty days of Jesus’ life. In fact, one-third of the Gospel of John is about the final twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life. While the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak to the “what” of Jesus’ ministry, John speaks to the “why.” That is why the experience at the well with the Samaritan woman is so important when Jesus’ reveals, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Lent is a time for us to seek “living water.” It is a time for us to fully feel the significance of our Baptism, and to fully appreciate the gift of salvation which has been given us to assure that we will never be thirsty again.
March 23, 2014 – The Third Sunday of Lent
Our readings on this Third Sunday of Lent begin with the tale from Exodus about how the people of Israel were in the desert, and they were thirsty. They were unhappy with Moses, their leader, and they were disappointed with God to the extent they questioned whether the Lord was still present, asking “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”
That is a question we may ask at times. We may wonder if God is watching over us; we may lose our trust in God. It is worth noting that the Book of Exodus tells us in today’s reading that the Israelites were in a place called Massah and Meribah. In Hebrew “Massah” means “to test” and “Meribah” means “to quarrel or provoke.” The description of the chosen people “provoking” God and “testing” God may have applicability to us as well. Stewardship calls for us to place our faith and trust in God — to believe and know that He is always with us and always watching over us.
That is not easy. Jesus never once tells us that it will be easy or that it is easy. However, He also assures us in today’s Gospel that He brings us the “living water.” Even in the Book of Isaiah we are reminded “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Is 12:3) As St. Paul says in the second reading, “…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.” (Like living water)
March 16, 2014 – The Second Sunday of Lent
In the recounting of the Transfiguration of Christ in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew we are given just a glimpse of the glory of Heaven. The Transfiguration is included in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as in 2 Peter. Theologians have concluded that the Transfiguration was the way that Jesus could confirm His divinity to the Apostles.
The Transfiguration is unique in many ways. It was completely unannounced and unexpected, and it is, of course, never repeated. For us during the Lenten season it is a reminder to us of the Lord’s status as the Son of God as well as the absolute indescribable glory in Heaven. All of the readings for this Second Sunday of Advent include signals to us of what we need to be doing and concentrating on during Lent.
The first reading from Genesis tells the story of Abram, how he was challenged by God to leave all and follow Him, and how great the rewards would be if he did so. In a way it is the same challenge God makes to us during Lent and throughout our lives: are we willing to leave our sins behind and follow the Lord? If we do, we will receive the same promises made to Abram. And these promises are made to all people in all nations.
The second reading from the Second Letter to Timothy, although short, reiterates the promise of salvation to us and the magnificence which follows that. As is often the case, scholars debate whether this letter was written by St. Paul or by one of his followers. If Paul did write it, it was written very near to his death; if not, it was written by someone very close to Paul just after Paul died. It is worth noting that this segment of the letter is followed shortly by Paul’s famous quote, “I have fought the good fight…I have finished the race…I have kept the faith.” We, too, need to seek and find that inspiration, that strength to live out our lives as good stewards of God’s many blessings. We are encouraged to use the strength of the Lord to pursue the “holy life” to which we are called.
Most Biblical scholars have concluded that the Transfiguration occurred on Mount Hermon, a 9,200 foot snow-capped mountain whose streams flow into the Jordan River. That connection is significant in that it was the Jordan where Jesus was baptized, and God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son.” God reveals the same during the Transfiguration, again declaring “This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” The message “Listen to Him” is intended for us as well. Lent is a time to listen. Do we listen to Jesus? Do we listen to Him every day as we go about living our lives?
Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. The additional message for us found in the Transfiguration is that Jesus is the fulfillment; Jesus’ Gospel teachings replace the Law and offer us the route to salvation. This Lenten time is an opportunity for us to listen to Jesus and respond to His calling us as disciples. As we were told in the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Stewardship, stewardship is a disciple’s response to that calling.
March 16, 2014 – The Second Sunday of Lent
On this Second Sunday of Lent, just a matter of days into our Lenten journeys, we must be ever mindful of the beneficence of our Lord. Holy Scripture makes it quite clear in the first reading from Genesis and the second reading from Second Timothy that God includes all of us among His blessings, and He will provide us with all the strength we need to fulfill His expectations.
From the inclusion of “all the communities of the earth” in Genesis to the assurance that we can bear all hardships with “the strength that comes from God” in the second reading we need to recognize that this Lent is a time for us to respond to God’s stewardship call.
It is never too late to commit ourselves to try to be more holy, and to try to be better stewards of the incredible gifts we have received from the Lord. The Gospel gives us just a glimpse of the glory which awaits in Heaven. St. Peter’s offer to construct three shelters to preserve this Heavenly experience and Jesus’ ignoring that is a reminder to us that we cannot have Heaven on earth. Nevertheless, this Lenten season is a time for us to seek holiness and commit to lives of stewardship as we await and seek our eternal reward.
March 9, 2014 – First Sunday of Lent
The readings on this First Sunday of Lent take us from creation to Crucifixion, which is really analogous to our Lenten journeys. It is also similar to our corresponding stewardship journeys and the understanding of stewardship which those treks may spawn.
Our faith and our stewardship begin with the recognition that God is the source of all things. Therefore, it is most appropriate that our first reading from Genesis speaks to the creation, specifically the creation of humankind. There are two vital parts to God’s creation of us. Note that He molds us from the earth, and then He breathes into us the “breath of life.” In this chapter from Genesis it reads “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
This is key because it points out that we are physical (formed from the earth) as well as spiritual (the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, is breathed into us). If we lose that spiritual aspect, we are nothing but the earth and we return to dust. Of course, one of the statements we may hear when we received ashes on Ash Wednesday is “For dust you are, and unto dust you shall return.”
Nevertheless, St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans (the second reading) explains that we do have alternatives and choices. “…just as through one transgression [reference to the downfall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as cited in the first reading] condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act [Jesus’ crucifixion and suffering for us] acquittal and life came to all.” (Romans 5:18) Paul reminds us that we have an option, especially during Lent, to pursue righteousness and grace. Stewardship, which recognizes that God creates and gifts us with all we are and all we may have, also appeals to us to live in a righteous way—please understand that both the Hebrew and Greek roots of the word “righteous” do not refer to an abstract idea of being good, but to a way of life which is good. Stewardship is a way of life, a way of living life which is good.
Our Lenten journey is emphasized as comparable to Jesus’ trials in the desert for 40 days. We tend to look at this Biblical explanation (it is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as something which occurred almost immediately after the Lord’s Baptism) as a series of temptations to which Jesus was exposed. As is often the case with Biblical language, we need to know that the translation into the word “tempt” is just as accurate in the original language to use the word “trial” or “test.” Thus when we hear the Word as “Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted by the devil,” it is just as accurate to say “Jesus was led into the desert to be tested by the devil.”
This is the reality which we face during Lent. It is not so much that we need to be prepared to resist temptation (giving up things that may be bad for us, or denying ourselves those things). Even more we need to be prepared to face the trial, the test, of living our lives correctly. Our approach should not be just self denial, but actions which demonstrate our desire to become closer to God. Do not forget that when we consider those three traditional “pillars” relating to Lenten efforts — prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — that two of the three call for action on our part. Lent is a time of action. Stewardship is a way of living based upon action.
March 9, 2014 – First Sunday of Lent
The readings for this First Sunday of Lent present to us exactly what Lent should be about. In the Gospel from Matthew, reference is made to the time Jesus spent in the desert, “He fasted for forty days and nights.” Most of us are aware that Lent, which began on Ash Wednesday, is 40 days in length, ending on Holy Thursday after the Mass of the Last Supper.
We may also be aware that we are called to prayer, penance, repentance, fasting, almsgiving, and some elements of self-denial during this Lenten time. Today’s church keeps reminding us, nonetheless, that we need to do more than stop doing things. We also need to start doing things. That is where stewardship comes in, of course.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus was “tempted” by the devil. Notably the word for “tempt” in Greek is the same as the word for “trial.” Just as the Lord was put to trial by Satan, we, too, are put to trial every day. Our response has to be more than just saying “no” to those things which are not good for us. We also need to say “yes” to more good things — more practices which deepen our faith and bring us closer to God. That is what the 40 days of Lent are really about.
March 2, 2014 – Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospel from Matthew included in this Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time is a section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount which occurs roughly in the middle. The total Sermon on the Mount, reported in Matthew Chapters 5, 6, and 7, is more than 2,000 words in length. Scholars estimate that it was about a twenty minute sermon. Jesus’ first sentence in the sermon is “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and His final sentence relates to someone who built his house on a rock rather than on sand as the Lord calls His followers and us to listen carefully to what He says and instructs because it is in that way we can provide a firm foundation for our faith.
There are so many quotable paragraphs and sentences and phrases in the full Sermon on the Mount. Today’s Gospel reading includes one of them. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow.” This central thought and theme of much of Jesus’ teachings is supported by the readings which come before it in today’s liturgy.
The first reading from Isaiah articulates God’s love for us no matter what. As we pursue our faith, as we try to practice stewardship as a way of life, the Lord knows that we will face obstacles and frustration. Isaiah foresees this and prompts us to never forget that God’s love for us is even greater than the love a mother feels for her child. “Can a mother forget her infant?” If we focus on God’s love, we can overcome that sometime feeling of being neglected. Remember always that even Jesus struggled with similar emotions, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
In his first letter to the Corinthians, our second reading, Paul addresses how we need to view the Lord. He does this by comparing himself and other apostles to God. He is quite firm in the fact that he, Paul, is a servant and a steward of God, and that people need to see him in that light. As we have indicated previously, sometimes the translations of Holy Scripture we receive are not completely accurate in conveying what was originally written. In Paul’s original letter, which was written in Greek (Corinth was in Greece), Paul uses the word hyperitas which was translated to “servants.” The actual Greek word for “servant” was doulos. Paul is emphasizing a different kind of relationship. Hyperitas means a free, but subordinate individual. Paul confirms that relationship by adding the phrase “and stewards.” We, like Paul, are called to stewardship and service, and Paul wants us to know that.
As always, the Gospel, the actual words of Jesus in this instance, is replete with guidance and teachings which are essential to us in trying to live out the Christian life to which we are called. As included in Isaiah, we must place our complete trust in God, and as in First Corinthians, we need to see that we are stewards of God’s many gifts. It is easy for us to get embedded in our day to day lives, and to become anxious and worried in that regard. We cannot “serve two masters” — that is, God and all those things we think are so important in our secular lives. The steward places all in the hands of the Lord. Stewardship is a genuine response to Jesus’ teaching “Do not worry… tomorrow will take care of itself.”
March 2, 2014 – Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is continued in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, is the Lord’s longest sermon recorded in all of Holy Scripture. It is included in two of the four Gospels — Matthew and Luke. Interestingly, Matthew states that Jesus spoke on the mountain (“He went up the mountain.” Matthew 5:1). Luke, on the other hand, maintains that Jesus gave the sermon after he came down from the mountain (“…coming down with them, he took his stand on a level stretch.” Luke 6:17). Thus, Luke’s version is often called the Sermon on the Plain.
Regardless, the important aspects of the sermon are that the Lord lays out for us what we must do to be His disciples. Jesus has high expectations of us, such hopes for us, as a matter of fact, that we cannot possibly fulfill them. The point is not that we can achieve perfection in the Lord’s eyes, but that we diligently work to do so. Following stewardship as a way of life is that kind of an effort.
Today’s Gospel includes one of the most quoted statements of the entire Sermon. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Sometimes we struggle with exactly where to start. Jesus’ point is that we start with God, place our trust in Him, and the rest will follow. “Tomorrow will take care of itself.”
February 23, 2014 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
“All belong to you, and you to Christ.” (1 Cor 3:23) With those words St. Paul emphasizes our relationship to Christ in today’s second reading. The readings for this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time not only reinforce what our relationship to God should be, but also what our relationships to one another should be.
“Love your neighbor” is repeated in both the first reading from Leviticus and the Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus is quoted more than once as stating this is one of the two most important commandments, the other being “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37) That is about as definitive as it can get. The Lord leaves nothing to doubt and nothing to debate. Thus, our readings again complement one another to help us reach the proper understanding.
The Book of Leviticus falls in the middle of what we call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are the five books which make up the Pentateuch. Leviticus was in the middle for a reason. Attributed to Moses, it lays out the rituals which the Jewish people were to follow to properly live out and practice their faith. Two key notions expanded in Leviticus are holiness and sacrifice. The first is the challenge each of us faces in being called to holiness, and the second is a forerunner and reminder of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus Christ would make for us.
St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians includes the reminder, as indicated in the introduction of this reflection, that we are one with God in many ways. In stewardship we know that everything we are and everything we have comes from God. Paul assures us that we, our very bodies, are temples of God’s goodness. That notion certainly reinforces the admonition “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we truly view our very selves as being one with God, and if we love God, then we must also love ourselves. St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like them to be toward you if you were in your neighbor’s place. That is the touchstone of true reason.” Stewardship is an extension of that love.
Recall that the Gospel reading from Matthew is still part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There are so many precious lessons for us in that entire discourse that sometimes we need to concentrate on it one piece at a time. Today’s Gospel is particularly important, although not lengthy. The Lord’s advice that we should not only “love your neighbor” but also “love your enemy” as well is sometimes complicated for us to grasp. We need to understand that the word “neighbor” at that time meant to the listener “those who live near you and share your religion.” Jesus, by including your “enemy,” was pointing out that His call to “Love your neighbor” was more than that. It included everyone who was near you, wherever you might be.
It is not always easy to “love your neighbor,” let alone your enemy. However, that is exactly what is expected of us as good stewards. Stewardship is knowing that God loves us, that we are to love God in return, and that our directive as disciples of Christ is to love all as Jesus did. We faithfully are to strive to love our neighbor in ways that demonstrate that love and that reflect the love of Jesus Christ.
February 23, 2014 – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Eight separate times in the Bible we are told to “Love our neighbor.” As exemplified by today’s first reading from Leviticus, this command is found in the Old Testament, as well. Leviticus is the third book in our Old Testament. It was written some 600 years prior to the birth of Christ, and many scholars feel it was compiled by Moses himself.
In the first reading for this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, God declares to Moses, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus echoes that sentiment in the Gospel from Matthew affirming “You shall love your neighbor.” More than once Christ points out to us that this is the formula for striving for holiness and following Him. All we have to do is love our neighbor and everything else will fall in to place.
From a stewardship outlook, both the first reading and the Gospel point out the other challenge we have. In Leviticus God calls us to”… be holy for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Again the Son reaffirms that call by saying in the Gospel, “… be perfect just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Of course, we understand that the holiness and perfection to which we are called is impossible for us. Nevertheless, stewardship is one path we can take to move that direction.
With less than a month to go before the next Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference, now is your final chance to register for this once-in-a-lifetime event, where you will learn from expert pastors and lay leaders how you can transform your parish by developing stewardship as a way of life.
The McGread Stewardship Conference will be held Feb. 26-27 at the Diocese of Wichita’s Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, Kansas.
Now in its 10th year, the McGread Conference has inspired and educated thousands of priests, religious, and lay Catholics. The February conference once again will feature a lineup of dynamic speakers who will share their remarkable stories and give practical examples of how developing the spirituality of stewardship has made an indelible impact on the lives of parishioners and the life of the parish.
The conference is named for the late Msgr. Thomas McGread, who passed away in April 2013. Msgr. McGread has been called the “Father of Stewardship,” and he was instrumental in the drafting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. Conference attendees will hear the incredible story of how Msgr. McGread’s stewardship vision transformed his parish — St. Francis of Assisi in Wichita — and how his stewardship model has impacted other parishes across the country.
The conference is scheduled during the middle of the week so that all participants can arrive Tuesday evening and depart Thursday afternoon.
For more information, contact Shari Navarre at 888-822-1847, ext. 3702, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 16, 2014 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Eye has not seen… and ear has not heard… what God has prepared for those who love him.” Those words contain God’s promise to us regarding salvation. This particular piece of Holy Scripture is dear to the hearts of many faith-filled Catholics. However, it is more than a glowing prediction of eternity for those who follow the Lord and work to fulfill His call to holiness. There may not be a more adept statement to give us hope — not just hope in the future, but hope in the present — right now.
In some ways our readings for this Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time appear on the surface to be somewhat legalistic. Nevertheless, when we look beyond those surface meanings, we find a depth of stewardship thought worth reviewing and contemplating.
The astute Book of Sirach is filled with so much wisdom and philosophy that it becomes difficult for us to absorb it completely. Evidently written in the Second Century before Christ the Book provides insights into much of the acumen laid out in the Gospels. There are two noteworthy stewardship thoughts presented in today’s first reading. The opening sentence points out that we have free will in relation to stewardship and everything else in our lives. God provides guidance, but it is we who must choose to follow that counseling. Furthermore, according to Sirach, “If you trust in God, you will be saved.” Trust in the Lord is at the crux of lives of stewardship. When we give of ourselves, and everything we have, we trust that God will take care of us.
A common theme of St. Paul is that he knows he has not been gifted with great scholarly wisdom, but he is confident of the fact that Christ saved him and us if we follow the Lord’s advice and place our trust in His sacrifice and His redemption of us. This in effect is how he approaches the Corinthians in the second reading. Paul differentiates between the “wisdom of the world” and the “wisdom of God.” The secular worldly perspective which seems to go against lives of stewardship does not always reflect the “wisdom of God.” As Catholics and good stewards we are called to a higher life style, one which in Paul’s words, “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age.” Those insightful words are as applicable today as they were for the Corinthians in that time. Our Christian wisdom has to see beyond the superficial nature of much of what we encounter in the world, into a deeper understanding of what is important, the “depths of God” as indicated by St. Paul.
Stripping away the obvious stated by Jesus in today’s Gospel, we must see deeper into what He is teaching us. Like the reading from Sirach, free will is brought into play. Like the reading from First Corinthians, the Lord calls us to a deeper wisdom, a deeper understanding. We are called to righteousness. According to dictionaries, righteousness is living a moral or right life in the eyes of God. The point that Jesus is making to us is that we cannot achieve this level of holiness without God’s help. Thus, as stewards, we must with God’s help make the right decisions and live the right way so that it is the wisdom of God which saves us. We cannot do it without Him.
February 16, 2014 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading from the Book of Sirach prompts us to remember an important stewardship fact. Sirach writes, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments; they will save you.” The point is that God has granted us free will. The Lord has given us choices.
As much as we speak about stewardship and as much as we point out the importance of living life with stewardship at its core, we all understand that what we do and how we do it is a matter of choice. It is one of those many choices we must make. From the perspective of our Catholic faith, it is a way to respond to Jesus’ call to us to pursue holiness.
Today’s second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains one of the most eloquent descriptions of what is to come, the reward for living a God-centered and faith-filled life: “Eye has not seen… ear has not heard… what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:8) In other words the glory of salvation is beyond our imaginations. Free will is something gifted to us in this life. However, choosing the right path, choosing the right ways to love others, pursuing stewardship, although an option, is a vital way to live and to do what God wishes us to do.
Sometime last year, I received a complaint from some parishioners that stewardship is “getting old” for some people. For many who know me, you can imagine this made my heart sink. However, it also makes me wonder, with some concern — when did living a life of discipleship “get old”? I realize that something that changed my life and so many others hasn’t changed everyone. There are people who still find the term “stewardship” confusing or even offensive. I notice it not only in parishioners, but priests and strangers alike.
Last November, on the return flight from a pilgrimage to Rome, I sat next to a faith-filled, enthusiastic American woman who was also returning from a pilgrimage. As we talked, I told her that I have spoken about the spirituality of stewardship in parishes around the country. She responded, “Well, that’s good. We need you money people.” I’m glad my seat belt was fastened for I could have gone through the roof — something you don’t do at 37,000 feet! Trying hard not to sound defensive, I said, “It isn’t about money, you know.” To my disappointment, she was convinced it was. Then, sadly, I backed down and returned my attention to the little screen in front of me that indicated how far we had to go before we “touched down.”
Pondering this dialogue, it crossed my mind, we have a long way to go before linking stewardship and discipleship becomes common and understandable to more people. I know in my parish of St. John’s and in my own personal life, we have “taken off” and already traveled quite a distance. I am so grateful and feel very blessed for how far we have come! Sometimes, our journey has been very smooth and sometimes, we have had a little turbulence. But we are airborne! I do not believe we can nor should we turn back.
That evening upon arrival, I was asked by the customs agent, “Anything to declare?” “Nothing” was my quick reply. However, I wondered what kind of reaction I would have received if I said, “Yes, stewardship is a way of life.” I know it would not have gotten me through the line any faster. That night, with a bad case of jet lag and a huge pile of mail waiting for me, I picked a package from our bishop which contained a book by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti titled Letters to My Brothers: Words of Hope and Challenge for Priests. With a heartfelt letter of support and affirmation, the gift was thoughtful and insightful. In the introduction, I read, “Like St. Paul, we say: ‘For an obligation has been imposed on me. Woe to me if I do not preach it!’ (1 Corinthians 9:16).”
For Msgr. Rossetti, his book is what he needed to declare to us priests. Although, the words of Paul to the Corinthians caught my attention, and I immediately thought about my obligation to preach stewardship as a way of life made clear in the Word of God. I wrote the words on a small card and placed it in my prayer book. For this priest, they are “words of hope and a challenge.” I suspect they would be for any pastor or deacon who preaches the Word of God and speaks from the heart about the call to discipleship. I have an intense desire to “declare” stewardship is a way of life. It hasn’t gone away! It is a part of my calling to serve the Church. It is my way of life and yours. It remains to be the clearest and most understandable expression of the discipleship that you and me and so many others strive to practice in our daily life, our spiritual life and our Church. We shouldn’t be afraid to “declare it” with our actions, in our prayers and in participation in the Catholic faith. And it has never been just for “the money people.”
Our world and society today doesn’t like “obligations imposed” upon us. And yet, the great apostle Paul believes our faith is a gift that imposes on us an obligation that is more of an opportunity to “declare” to those around us to live a life of the disciple which for many of us, is to live the faithful stewardship way of life. He even warns us, this “opportunity” is not as optional as we would like for, if we choose not to be the “faithful steward,” there will be consequences.
Our world and our society need us to “declare” our faith in thought, word and deed. It needs us to not back down on what we believe and are called to “declare.” For when our journey finally comes to an end, it won’t be a customs agent asking us if we have anything to declare. It is our Lord himself asking us to declare what kind of stewards we have been with what we have been given. “Anything to declare?” I wouldn’t want to be the one who replies, “No, my Lord, nothing.” Would you?